Washington State Ferries has initiated use of a whale alert app and web-based system that will provide ferry captains more accurate and updated location information for southern resident orcas and other whales throughout Puget Sound. Access to Ocean Wise’s Whale Report Alert System (WRAS) is only granted to the commercial maritime operators such as ferries, ships and tugs. It is not available for public use or for whale watch operators.
The WRAS relies on real-time sightings, reported by members of the public via Ocean Wise’s WhaleReport smartphone application, to inform commercial mariners of whale presence. The system is expected to provide ferry captains and other commercial mariners with better information about large marine mammal locations in the vicinity of their vessels so ferry captains can make decisions to change course or reduce speed to avoid disturbing or colliding with marine mammals.
Each alert also supplies other pertinent details such as the species observed, the direction of whale travel, the time of the report and the number of whales in the group. This desktop interface allows watch standers at WSF’s operations centers to monitor the location of whale sightings relative to fleet vessel positions and relay whale presence information to captains as required.
“Because we operate our 22 ferries on Puget Sound and manage 20 terminals on its shores, we have an obligation to ensure WSF is doing everything we can to protect our environment, including marine life,” said WSF Assistant Secretary Amy Scarton.
WRAS was developed by Ocean Wise with funding from the Government of Canada, the Port of Prince Rupert, and the Port of Vancouver’s Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation (ECHO) Program,. WSF has been a member of the ECHO program’s Advisory Working Group since 2015 and helped in beta testing of WRAS.
Ed. Note: Marine traffic on Puget Sound besides Washington State Ferries includes supertankers and cargo ships delivering containers to the port. According to one report, 18 gray whales have been found dead in Washington waters this year so far. While this new system is a step in the right direction, it does not address other types of marine vessels.